§ 2.54 p.m.
§ Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ What is their policy on the future of Lappel Bank, the rare bird haven on the River Medway in Kent.
My Lords, the Government decided to exclude Lappel Bank from the Medway estuary special protection area because the Lappel Bank was essential to the continued commercial viability of the port of Sheerness. Lappel Bank, though a habitat for migrating birds, was not important for any rare species listed in Annex 1 of the Birds Directive. We await the judgment of the European Court of Justice in the case referred to it by this House.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. He has indicated that he is aware that Lappel Bank is well known throughout Great Britain and on the Continent. It was designated to protect special wild birds. Indeed, the decision by Mr. John Gummer to abolish it was challenged by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I am quite sure that this House will not rule that that Royal Society should not be listened to.
I understand that this House referred the matter to the European Court of Justice, but I have heard no result. The Minister is very kind and helpful. Many people have written to me about this issue. Will he agree that whatever the Government do, they should listen to the voice of the British people? The British people want this area preserved.
My Lords, we decided that the Medway estuary should be divided into 4,681 hectares for the birds with 22 hectares for the people. That seems to me a very generous decision in favour of the birds.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, among the people who offer the Minister advice, is he aware of the concerns of the people of Sheerness? They require to work and find employment in that area.
My Lords, absolutely; and that is the reason that the Lappel Bank was excluded from that area.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, will the Minister give an indication of the European Commission's interest in this matter?
My Lords, the European arrangements for designating the special protection areas for birds are Europe-wide for migratory species because they are a Europe-wide asset. We thoroughly support the efforts being made in Europe to designate safe areas for these birds. We also support the exclusion of certain limited areas which are necessary for the development of their adjacent human communities.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, the Minister might have told my noble friend that this site was also worthy of protection under the RAMSAR and Berne Conventions as well as any European directive that may exist. 1017 However, Lappel Bank is now destroyed. Since it was excluded from this special protection area for economic rather than environmental reasons, do the Government agree that they have to bear some responsibility for compensation? Will the Department of the Environment discuss some method of compensation with English Nature?
My Lords, whether or not compensation arises is now a matter for the European Court of Justice. We shall wait to see what it says.
Should compensation arise, there is no defined way in which compensation can be paid. That would be a matter of negotiation at first instance with the Commission. I imagine that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds might propose that we flood the entire Romney Marsh; we might propose to dump 22 hectares of estuarine mud on the Lodge at Sandy, Bedfordshire; and somewhere there would be a compromise. However, we cannot discuss any form of compensation at present.
§ Baroness Hilton of Eggardon
My Lords, whatever the rights or wrongs of this specific site—there may be a balance to be sought as regards jobs—it seems to fall into a general pattern of setting profit before the preservation of the wildlife of this country. There has been a 50 per cent. reduction in song thrushes in this country over the past 25 years. What do the Government propose to do about that and about the other 23 birds now on the endangered list? We had only eight on that list 15 years ago.
My Lords, in the context of the Question, that is a totally ridiculous assertion and indicates the value that the party opposite places on jobs for the people of this country.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, does the Minister argue that the exclusion of 22 acres helped business? What proportion of the income gained are the Government willing to pay as compensation? If it did not raise any more income, then surely there is no point in the exercise.
My Lords, the 22 acres were required as a vital part of the development of Sheerness. They now play a part in the commercial life of the port. In due course, if not now, that land will result in increased taxation for Her Majesty's Treasury, which is always desirable.
§ Baroness Hilton of Eggardon
My Lords, will the Minister reply to the question which I put to him? I asked what he was doing about the 23 species of bird which had declined by 50 per cent. over the past 15 years with the serious loss of songbirds, larks and so forth.
My Lords, that has nothing to do with the Question. As the noble Baroness is aware, we have designated about 500,000 hectares of special protection areas. The Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment have extensive programmes to help 1018 our native birds, in particular those which she mentioned. Her attempt to insert into the Question some moral outrage at the Government's behaviour is totally inappropriate.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, the Minister made the encouraging comment that possibly other areas might be created. If so, will he be good enough to keep in touch with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds?
My Lords, I am delighted to say that we keep in constant touch with that august and responsible organisation.